Israel — The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has planned to establish a fire-fighting squadron that would operate under its command after a wild bushfire that raged through the Carmel Forest in northern Israel last week, local Ma’ariv daily reported Tuesday.
IAF Chief Maj.-Gen. Ido Nechushtan has directed military attaches abroad to inquire about various models of fire-fighting aircraft and costs, the report said.
The forest blaze, considered the gravest natural disaster in Israel’s history, claimed 42 lives and left behind damages to infrastructure and private properties estimated to near one billion U.S. dollars.
A political firestorm erupted in recent days after the real flames ebbed, as a host of government ministries began blaming each other for the severe deficiencies of the nation’s fire- fighting services, which, among other things, are equipped with fire trucks dating back to the 1970s.
Earlier in the decade, the IAF made available its CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters for assisting in fire-fighting missions. In 2003, it asked to exempt the aircraft from such duties, citing concern of damage incurred by the aircraft from excessive heat and smoke.
Aerial assistance in fighting flames was then tasked to Chim Nir, a private company which mainly leases planes for crop dusting. In the deadly blaze, the company’s stock of flame retardant material was barely sufficient to last several hours.
Some of the fire-fighting craft considered for procurement by the IAF include the Canadair cl-415 employed by France, Turkey and Greece. Another is the Air Tracktor (AT-802), a lighter craft.
Another idea contemplated by the IAF is to fit its fleet of C- 130 Hercules heavy transport planes with special gear that would enable to temporarily convert it to fire-fighting missions, according to the report.
IAF pilots partook in the efforts of foreign aerial fire- fighting crew who arrived in Israel to extinguish the blaze, joining the sorties of the visiting planes.
Flying with the foreign planes has enabled IAF crew to gain critical insight into the various aircraft and the technology they employ, alongside their advantages and limitations, said the report.